The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is considering including introversion as a determining factor for diagnosing mental disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—commonly known as the DSM-5. The APA’s proposed definition of introversion is: “Withdrawal from other people, ranging from intimate relationships to the world at large; restricted affective experience and expression; limited hedonic capacity.” The definition also includes "deficit in the capacity to feel pleasure or take interest in things."
When I took the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment during my corporate days, I learned that being an introvert meant that I got my energy from my inner world—and that there was nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you’re an introvert, you’re in good company since about half the population has preferences like ours—such as thinking before we speak. If the APA includes the proposed definition of introversion in the DSM-5, could that exacerbate the stigmas that introverts already face?
I’m wondering this as a businessperson, and with respect for the field of psychiatry. I'm concerned with the misconceptions around introversion in our society and specifically in the workplace. If introversion becomes a criteria for diagnosing mental disorders, could that lead to confusion among those who learned they were introverts by taking the MBTI® tool and other personality assessments?
“If an introvert is clinically depressed,” says Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Introvert Power, “that’s a problem.” She adds, “If an introvert is debilitated by anxiety, that is a problem. If an introvert suffers from a social phobia, that is a problem. But if an introvert is simply an introvert, please don't render that person ill. We are talking half the population here!”
If the APA were to use another term instead of introversion, would that help prevent perpetuating the stigma around introversion? Or are the concerns I'm raising a stretch? Are we talking apples and oranges? Is this a semantic squabble?
I welcome your insights and perspectives and will keep you posted if I learn anything compelling to add to the mix. Meanwhile, you can learn more about the proposed definition of introversion on the APA’s Web site. Also check out the DSM5 in Distress blog that Allen Frances, MD writes for Psychology Today and see his recent “DSM5: An Open Process or Bust” story.